Fake Apple trader lucky to avoid jail

Elmira Rafiee. Photo / NZ Herald
Elmira Rafiee. Photo / NZ Herald

Arriving at court with $14,500 helped an Auckland woman who conned online traders out of almost $50,000 avoid a prison sentence.

Elmira Rafiee was sentenced today to nine months of home detention, 200 hours of community work and ordered to pay $48,332.64 in reparation after pleading guilty to 57 charges relating to Trade Me and Sella auctions earlier this year.

The 25-year-old, using the pseudonym Aaliyah, trawled through online listings and contacted prospective buyers offering to sell them cut-price iPads and iPhones.

But the goods never materialised.

She was sentenced by Judge David Harvey at Auckland District Court on 56 charges of obtaining by deception and one of attempting to obtain by deception.

Her lawyer Mark Edgar said her family had pulled together $14,500 to go towards reparation payments and her job in a beauty salon would allow her to continue the payments at $100 a week.

Mr Edgar stressed the need for Rafiee's sentence to be "between the punitive and the rehabilitative''.

Her mother, father and sister were in court to support her and the Persian community they are part of was aware of the shame she had brought on her family.

"She comes to court with that shame on her shoulders.''

Crown prosecutor Tom Molloy said it would take an estimated six years to repay her victims, adding: "The Crown understanding is that the prisoner did breach her electronically monitored bail a number of times.''

Judge Harvey highlighted the level of premeditation in the crimes. Rafiee pre-purchased courier bags to provide tracking numbers to "allay the fears of the hapless purchasers''.

The loss of confidence in computer systems caused by Rafiee's offending created "considerable concern'' as the world moved further and further into the "digital'' world.

Trade Me was a "vital e-service company'' that had been publicly listed on New Zealand's stock exchange. Undermining the security of the company had the potential to devalue its worth, Judge Harvey said.

He took into account Rafiee's guilty pleas, the time she had spent on electronically monitored bail and her "dedicated attempts'' to raise funds for reparation.

A jail sentence would have limited her ability to repay her victims and the weekly payments would serve as an ongoing reminder of her offending, he said.

Judge Harvey added a six-month ban from accessing the internet to her home detention sentence along with a compulsory alcohol and drug assessment.

"It appears that drugs at least played some part in driving you towards this offending.''

Trade Me trust and safety manager Jon Duffy said 'Aaliyah' was blocked from creating a membership on the site when the majority of the offending took place.

But she scoured the site looking for people who had left their cellphone numbers on the question and answer section of auction listings and contacted them directly - offering them Apple goods at discount prices.

"We firmly encourage our members not to go outside the auction process and if people are approached to do the deal off-site we advise them not to do it.

"I don't want to belittle the effect that her actions have had on the victims of the fraud, but Trade Me is also in some ways a victim of what's gone on here,'' he said.

"We work very hard to maintain the trust and integrity in our site and when people like 'Aaliyah' carry out this type of activity it undermines that trust.''

- APNZ

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